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Hong Kong market watchdog fines Citi USD45M for equities misconduct

CNA – Hong Kong’s market regulator has fined a Citigroup subsidiary HKD348.25 million (USD45 million) for misconduct in its cash equities business and is launching disciplinary proceedings against some former senior managers at the bank.

The Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) said yesterday that some of Citigroup Global Markets Asia Limited’s (CGMAL) trading desks had issued inaccurate “indications of interest” in stocks to generate client inquiries and had also made misrepresentations to customers when executing some trades.

The SFC said senior CGMAL managers had attended a roundtable with the watchdog in 2014 during which it drew attention to common deficiencies found in the market, and that it had also issued a circular in 2018 providing further guidance.

Despite both these efforts, CGMAL had still failed to identify the misconduct or rectify its failures, the SFC said.

It said it would, in due course, start disciplinary proceedings against the former members of the bank’s senior management it considered responsible for CGMAL’s misconduct. It did not say how many people were involved nor name them.

Reuters reported in 2019 that Citi had fired eight bankers and suspended three from its equities trading desk in Hong Kong after an internal investigation revealed misconduct in their dealings with clients.

“The severity of CGMAL’s failures exposed a culture that encouraged chasing revenue at the expense of basic standards of honesty,” SFC Chief Executive Ashley Alder said in a statement. “In the face of unrelenting commercial pressure to solicit more business and increase CGMAL’s market share, deceptive practices were deployed at the expense of clients’ best interest and to the detriment of market integrity,” Alder said.

A Citi spokesman said the bank had held more than 400 client conversations to keep them informed, rebuild relationships and describe the enhanced controls adopted by Citi.

He said most, if not all, had resumed their business relationship with Citi.

“This resolves an issue relating to Citigroup Global Markets Asia Limited activities dating back to 2018.

“We have fully cooperated with the SFC’s investigation and have implemented significant remedial measures to strengthen our compliance and internal controls,” he said in an
e-mailed statement.